As predicted, Sam Burgess made history and became the first non-Australian player to win the Clive Churchill Medal that goes to the man of the match in the National Rugby League Grand Final, the Englishman inspiring South Sydney to glory.
Sam Burgess fractured a cheekbone and an eye socket in the first minute of South Sydney’s 30-6 National Rugby League Grand Final victory over Canterbury but never did he leave the field, making 35 tackles and carrying the ball for 225 metres in a performance that was quite extraordinary.
Bookmakers have wasted no time installing South Sydney as next season’s National Rugby League favourite but no team has gone back to back in the NRL era that kicked off in 1998. Indeed, only one National Rugby League premiership winner has made the NRL Grand Final in the following year and that was the 2008 Melbourne side that officials subsequently found was well over the salary cap.
Sam Burgess has played his last game for South Sydney, at least until he completes his rugby union contract, and the Rabbitohs have lost Apisai Koroisau and Ben Te’o from their National Rugby League Grand Final-winning team as well. One expects South Sydney to be thereabouts next season but the Rabbitohs have lost better players than they have recruited because Tim Grant and, in particular, injury-prone Glenn Stewart are not as good as Sam Burgess and Te’o. Therefore, one wants to bet around South Sydney and, for that matter, Sydney as well because the Roosters have lost their Sam Burgess equivalent, multi-sport star Sonny Bill Williams.
Canterbury does not have the point-scoring ability to merit being so high up in National Rugby League premiership lists. One feels that time may have caught up with Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett. Penrith overachieved in getting within one win of this year’s National Rugby League Grand Final. And, of the other sides that made this season’s top eight, one thinks that Manly is a club heading for a big fall because of its off-field dramas and Melbourne is too reliant on three players whose best days are probably behind them.
Good mathematicians will note that one has commented about seven teams, not eight. The odd side out is North Queensland, and the Cowboys are overpriced at odds of +1200 with many bookmakers, including Bet365, BetVictor and Sky Bet, to bounce back from this year’s disappointment to win their first National Rugby League premiership in 2015.
North Queensland has Johnathan Thurston, the world’s best rugby league player, on its books and provided that JT is fit and healthy at the business end of next season, the Cowboys are going to be a threat. North Queensland will not want for motivation having been robbed by bad decisions in each of the last three National Rugby League finals series.
Only one team did not lose to South Sydney as the Rabbitohs marched to their first premiership in 43 years and that team was North Queensland. First, North Queensland defeated South Sydney 20-18 at 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville, scoring all its points in a fabulous first-half display that was only spoilt by Thurston’s uncharacteristically wayward kicking for goal. And second, North Queensland beat South Sydney 22-10 at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, again blowing away its opponent in the first 40 minutes, leading 16-0 at half time as Thurston put his Cowboys colleagues into holes.
Six sides are trading at shorter National Rugby League premiership odds than North Queensland even though the Cowboys finished the 2014 regular season in fifth position and they experienced misfortune in the finals series. One expects North Queensland to be a better team in 2015, something that is unlikely to apply to many of its title rivals, particularly South Sydney.